Adventures in the Parallel World
1. Catherine in New York
When Catherine Morland arrived in New York City with her aunt and uncle Allen she was thinking about Lee Adama.
More specifically, she was thinking of that episode from season two when he first took charge of a Battlestar, when the commander of the Pegasus turned to him and said, "You have the Conn," and the cameras sort of spiraled around him, and thunderstruck he repeated the words to himself before doing some pretty amazing Cylon ass-kicking.
She was thinking about this because the truth was that the first seventeen years of her life had been a disappointment. That didn't mean they'd been bad. But they hadn't been extraordinary either. The only extraordinary things, as far as Catherine could tell, had been the things leading up to her life. Everything afterwards, everything that had actually happened to her, had been ordinary.
These were the events leading up to Catherine's life, or at least the story as Catherine would tell it, which may or may not have been a somewhat fictionalized version:
There was a girl named Caroline Allen (but everyone called her Caro or occasionally Duck), a posh, pretty girl who might have been a little snobbish and was certainly moneyed. She was twenty-three, it was summer, she was driving across Pennsylvania in the direction of Philadelphia, and she was running out of gas. She took an exit. She was listening to the radio. She may have hit something—she must have—for she heard a pop, felt a bump, looked behind her and saw smoke. She pulled over. Her tire was not only flat, it was shredded.
Caroline was not going anywhere special, but she was wearing a dress—a very expensive dress. And she was wearing very expensive heals, and her nails were very expensively manicured. She squared her shoulders. And then she started walking. She walked, in her expensive shoes, ignoring the cars honking as they passed, to the nearest building. It was a gas station, and she used their phone to dial roadside assistant.
When the tow-truck finally came it was driven by a boy who looked about her age. He had blonde hair, too long. He was cute, and seemed nice, but Caroline thought he looked dirty. She supposed all mechanics were dirty. She rode up front with him. The cab of the tow-truck smelled like cigarettes. He played country music. He asked her name, and when she told him it was Caro he looked at her and said, "That's not a name, that's like vegetable oil."
She was taken aback. She said, "People call me Duck." But then she realized that wasn't any kind of name either.
His name was Bradley, and he never again called her anything but Duck. Never once.
Bradley drove Caroline to the auto shop where he worked. He got the car off the tow-truck, while she watched. When he was done with that he stood for a moment and looked at her, gave her the up-and-down, arms folded across his chest and developing a little bit of a grin.
"Want to learn to change a tire?" he asked.
And Caroline knew she wasn't going to Philadelphia.
She had a credit card without a limit. She put herself up in the nearest motel. It was called the Talley Ho-tel, although the one of the l's in Talley had fallen down. Her family would've called it pitifully substandard, but Caroline was charmed. She liked the dingy carpets and marked-up walls. She liked Bradley's dirty mechanic shop, and going to rowdy little-league baseball games, and drinking beers, and eating off the value menu at fast food chains. It was as if she'd falling through a rift in space and landed in a parallel world, and she loved it.
Her father thought she was in Philadelphia with her mother. She called her mother and told her she'd decided to stay with her dad.
It lasted two months. It might have lasted longer. But in August Caroline realized that she was three weeks late. Blue-collar life suddenly didn't seen so novel.
Had she been in love with Bradley? Probably not. She had liked him, but what she had loved was the different sort of life he had, the orgasmic strangeness of it all. And that was a kind of love that didn't last once the strangeness wore off.
Bradley had been in love with her. When she told him she was pregnant, he was thrilled. He thought they should get married. But it was too late. For Caroline knew exactly what she didn't want, and that was Bradley Morland. She didn't want his life, or his baby, or his sweaty sex between the thin motel sheets. She wanted to find the rift she had fallen through and climb her way out of the parallel world, back into the proper one.
Her brother, David, flew in the next day to drive her back home. She had the baby because Bradley had wanted it, and when it was born she gave it to him. It was a peace offering, a parting gift.
That baby was Catherine. And then came all the ordinary things.
Her childhood had been dully pleasant, and pleasantly dull. She never saw her mother (they told her she was in California now), but her Uncle David came round to visit often, eventually along with his pretty, neurotic wife. When she was thirteen, Catherine's father married a woman named Marge who worked as a nurse and had a son named Jamie two years older than Catherine. Then Marge and Bradley had three more children. Catherine loved all her siblings; she was wonderful with the younger ones. But she especially loved Jamie. He was her best friend in all the world.
So Catherine grew up until she was eighteen, and it was all rather nice and she really couldn't complain. And yet, and yet. Catherine could not quite explain it. She had always felt as though she had not been given the keys. In eighteen years, she had had no adventures whatsoever. She had never taken her life out for a drive.
But now, stepping out of the cab and into the moist summer heat, Catherine knew she was getting her chance. And she said to herself, as she pulled her luggage into the sort of hotel she had never been in before and would most likely never be in again, "Cath, you have the Conn."
Then her phone rang, and it was Jamie, and she answered.
He said, "How's the weather, Cath?"
It was Jamie's favorite question, and it was never meant to be taken literally but was rather more of a how-do-you-do. Catherine said, "You have to see this place. It's like my first alien world." For the lobby of the hotel was certainly impressive. It was especially impressive to someone like Catherine, who had spent her life in not the fanciest parts of Reading.
Jamie laughed. "Brad said if he let you go out there nothing round here would ever be good enough for you again."
"When you coming up?" she asked.
He sighed. "I don't know, Cath. You know Brad had to lay some people off three weeks ago. I'm not sure it'd be too grateful of me to go flitting off to New York for a week when there are a lot of good guys sitting at home who don't want to be. Just doesn't seem like the time to be asking for favors."
"But he'd give you a few days off," Cath said, who was now in an elevator on her way up to the fifth floor.
She heard Jamie sigh. She could picture him frowning as he said, "I'm tired of people talking that he only keeps me on because I'm his wife's kid."
People talked because people liked to talk, whether or not they were right. In this case, they honestly weren't. For a twenty-year-old boy, Jamie was an excellent mechanic and almost annoyingly responsible. Catherine said, "It's not true. You're the best. You'll be running the place someday."
"That I will," Jamie said. "Tell you what, you check out this Izzie Thorpe for me. If she's cute enough to be worth it, maybe I'll try to swing up there for a couple days."
"You haven't seen her yet."
"Right. Better go. Live long and prosper," Catherine said, for she and the Allens had arrived in their suite.
"Later," Jamie said, and they hung up.
Catherine spent the next hour combing over the room. It was quite obvious to both her Uncle David and Aunt Gail that she was in awe, possibly also in love. If David was looking a little worried, it was because he knew his sister's story. He was afraid Catherine might turn into that story, only backwards. They would have to be careful with her.
Catherine knew her mother's story too, and perhaps she should have been worried herself. After all, she knew enough about parallel worlds to know they were dangerous. Take the Mirror Universe for example, or Bad Wolf Bay. Parallel worlds were nothing but trouble.
They were in New York on vacation and meeting an old friend of Aunt Gail's whose name was Nancy Thorpe. Nancy Thorpe had two kids, Izzie who was Catherine's age and John who was a little older. So the Allen's had brought Cath along not only because they like her along to places, but to be friends with Izzie and John. It was also her graduation present.
The Thorpes were arriving tomorrow. Until then Catherine had time to explore. She found the vending machines. She found the exercise room. Eventually, she found the pool.
Catherine liked indoor pools. The Allens had one. Actually, it wasn't the pools she liked. It was the rooms indoor pools were in. They were always sort of sticky-hot, but clean smelling. They reminded her of somewhere tropical. Not that Catherine had ever been anywhere tropical in her life. But she imagined these places were something like indoor pools.
"Going in?" someone asked her.
She turned around. The person addressing her was a boy (a man? when did the difference happen?) maybe a few years older than her. He was tall. He had brown hair, slightly unruly, and was wearing a smile that was friendly but also a little mischievous. He was fully clothed, like she was, and his hands were in his pockets.
She said, "If you are."
His grin widened. "Careful. I'll take you up on the challenge."
They stood, ten feet apart, regarding each other.
And although he was the nicest looking boy Catherine had ever seen, and she would have liked to impress him with her adventurousness, she knew she couldn't jump into the pool fully clothed. Because it wasn't what people who stayed in posh hotels did, surely it wasn't. And when you found yourself in a parallel world, you had to follow its rules.
"Maybe next time," she said.
If he was disappointed, he didn't show it. He simply rocked back on his heals a little and kept grinning and said, "It's a date."
But Catherine doubted very much that it really was a date. She left the pool room without even knowing his name.
A/N: I've always thought poor Northanger is atrociously neglected, and really it might be my second favorite Austen (you know, after Emma). Anyway, yes. Catherine will be a sci-fi geek, as I warned she might be. More on that next chapter, which will be longer.
So we'll see how this works out. Tell me what you think!